Starbucks’s C.E.O. Howard Schultz: “I Don’t Know if We Can Keep Our Bathrooms Open”

Starbucks’s chief executive, Howard Schultz, says the company is considering ending its open bathroom policy.

Speaking on Thursday at The Times’s DealBook D.C. policy forum, Mr. Schultz said the coffee giant might no longer allow people who were not customers to use their stores’ bathrooms. The move would reverse a policy Starbucks instituted in 2018 in the wake of the arrest of two Black men in one of its Philadelphia stores. The two men had been reported to the police by a Starbucks employee after they were denied use of the store’s bathroom and asked to leave. They hadn’t made a purchase.

At the time, Starbucks announced that “any customer is welcome to use Starbucks spaces, including our restrooms, cafes and patios, regardless of whether they make a purchase.”

But on Thursday Mr. Schultz said that a growing mental health problem was making it difficult for his company’s employees to manage its stores under the current policies. Mr. Schultz said that the decision was an “issue of just safety” and that he thought Starbucks might have to put policies in place that limit the number of non-customers who come into its stores.

“We have to harden our stores and provide safety for our people,” Mr. Schultz said. “I don’t know if we can keep our bathrooms open.”

It is the first time Mr. Schultz has addressed the company’s bathroom policies since rejoining the company as its interim chief executive in April. In 2018, when Starbucks announced the open-bathroom policy, Mr. Schultz, then Starbucks’s executive chairman, said he wasn’t looking to turn his stores into public restrooms, but problems with bias made it the right decision to open its bathrooms to all.

“Because we don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to you to the bathroom because you are ‘less than,’” Mr. Schultz said at the time. “We want you to be ‘more than.’”

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